Phrygian Mode Songs

Phrygian Mode Songs

“Space Oddity” by David Bowie has a Phrygian Mode intro. The chord changes are Fmaj7#11/E to Em. Because these chords fit together in the C major scale, you use C major scale notes to play over them. I hear the Em chord as primary, which is the third of the C scale, hence Phrygian mode.

Phrygian Mode is created when the third degree of a major scale is functioning as the tonal center of the music. I have more examples below.

The following songs are either based entirely in Phrygian mode or at least feature a Phrygian mode section at some point (like the beginning).

“War” by Joe Satriani
E5-F5. E Phrygian.
iii-IV in C, or if you renumber: i-bII in E minor. (guitars tuned down one half-step to Eb)

“Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeath
E5-F5. E Phrygian.
iii-IV in C, or if you renumber: i-bII in E minor.

“Remember Tomorrow” by Iron Maiden
E5-F5. E Phrygian.
iii-IV in C, or if you renumber: i-bII in E minor.

“The Sails Of Charon” by Scorpions B5-C5.
B Phrygian.
iii-IV in G, or if you renumber: i-bII in B minor.

Phrygian mode is not used as much as other modes like Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian. When music features Phrygian mode, it’s usually only temporarily. An alternate version of Phrygian mode called Phrygian Dominant is actually more common. Phrygian Dominant stems from the 5th degree of the harmonic minor scale. All this music theory and more (including song references) is covered in my Fretboard Theory guitar theory program.

See also: Phrygian and Phrygian Dominant Guitar Scales in Rush’s YYZ

Comments ( 4 )

  • Love the song and was hoping to find Phrygian Mode here. I wish I could agree – I just hear the dominating C pitch too strongly. Maybe that’s just me.

    About 18 months ago, I swear there was a popular song on the radio that ended with a descending Phrygian scale, but I never could find it again after I began looking for it in earnest.

  • The C pitch doesn’t start until the vocal comes in. Before that, at the very beginning when the song first fades in, you only hear the chords Fmaj7 and Em. If that part were to resolve, I hear it resolving on Em.

  • Goran

    “About 18 months ago, I swear there was a popular song on the radio that ended with a descending Phrygian scale, but I never could find it again after I began looking for it in earnest.”

    I bealive that would be love etc by pet shop boys. Hope you will se this comment 2 yrs later 😀

  • Zemorah

    David Bowie often uses the Phrygian mode in his songs. THE album The man who sold the world is full of it. Lady grinning soul is maybe the best example.

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